Magnesium alloy body. Interchangeable cameras. 5.2K video. CinemaDNG and ProRes recording. High-speed Sport mode. Obstacle detection and avoidance. Retractable landing gear and 360-degree camera rotation. Dual-operator control with FPV pilot camera. Intelligent flight modes.
High-performance computer required for video editing. Expensive. Adobe Premiere CC bug hampers CinemaDNG workflow.
- Bottom Line
If money is no object, the DJI Inspire 2 is the best drone you can buy, delivering Raw video capture at 5.2K quality, superb build quality, and top-end performance.
By Jim Fisher
DJI's pro-grade Inspire 1 drone has enjoyed some upgrades over its lifespan. Its modular camera design made that possible, with the standard 1/2.3-inch X3 4K camera giving way to Micro Four Thirds X5 and X5 Raw variations. But now it's time for an all new airframe with two new camera options, significantly improved speed, and an obstacle avoidance system. The Inspire 2 ($6,198 as reviewed) is sure to be the darling drone of pro filmmakers, local news stations, and deep-pocketed enthusiasts, as it supports features that demanding aerial videographers require, including dual-operator control and pro-grade video compression. It's our Editors' Choice for high-end drones.
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The Inspire 2 is a big drone. It's powered by just four rotors, so it's actually smaller than the competing pro-grade Yuneec Tornado H920. The aircraft's dimensions change slightly based on the position of its landing gear. When set to take off there's about 1.2 feet between each motor. Switching to travel mode, which lets you stow the drone in the included carrying case, widens its footprint, while at the same time reducing its height. Without a camera installed it weighs about 7.3 pounds, so you'll most certainly have to register with the FAA before outdoor flight.
The landing gear blocks the left and right views of the camera when the Inspire is on the ground, but it rises up once the drone is airborne, allowing camera to look left, right, backward, and any direction in between, with an unobstructed view. Its body is now magnesium alloy, in contrast to the plastic shell that protects the internals of the Inspire 1. The landing gear retains its carbon fiber construction.
The Inspire has a fixed, built-in camera that faces forward. It's stabilized by a 2-axis gimbal, and its sole purpose is to provide a forward video feed to the pilot at all times. It is nestled in the front, in between the forward obstacle sensors. The camera that is actually used for video capture hangs underneath the body and is stabilized using a 3-axis gimbal.
There are two camera options. The first is the Zenmuse X4S, which is a $599 add-on (not included in the $2,999 base price or the $6,198 configuration reviewed here). It has the same 1-inch 20MP image sensor, 24mm f/2.8-11 lens, and mechanical shutter as the integrated camera used by the Phantom 4 Pro. Its fixed field of view covers about the same angle as a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera system.
There's support for two remotes, one for the pilot and a second for the camera operator. Unlike the Phantom 4 Pro, the Inspire 2's remote controls don't have an integrated tablet. All of the video, both from the forward camera and Zenmuse camera, is sent over the same stream, so the two operators must be within 328 feet (100 meters) of each other when operating in tandem. Only one remote is included, so you'll need to buy a second one for $549 if you want to separate flight and camera control.
The aircraft features multiple redundant systems. There are dual Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) and barometers, and the flight transmission system has a backup communication path in the event the main one fails during flight. Additionally, there are two batteries, so you can safely bring the I2 in for a landing if one fails. The included charger holds up to four at a time, which is helpful if you end up buying an extra set or two. The batteries are self heating, and can operate in temperatures as low as -4 degress Fahrenheit (-20 degress Celsius). The drone can be operated in areas that are high above sea level—its ceiling is 16,400 feet (5000m).
It also supports TapFly, just like the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro. The fixed forward camera is utilized here, so you can send the drone flying in a certain direction while recording footage from another angle. There's also Active Track, which recognizes and follows moving subjects on the ground, as well as Orbit and Waypoint flight modes, all of which leverage the obstacle avoidance system.
Other automated flight options include Spotlight Pro, which allows you to identify and track a subject. The camera automatically stays honed on target while you fly the Inspire—it's like having a virtual camera operator on hand. Point of Interest—orbiting around a subject—and Waypoint flight aren't available as of yet, but are coming with a future update.
The Inspire 2 uses a different flight app than earlier DJI drones. You need to download the DJI Go 4 to your Android or iOS device in order to take control. The new app can import your flight logs from the cloud, assuming you've synced them using the older DJI Go flight app. And it supports some other recent models—including the Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, and Mavic Pro—as well. It's intriguing that DJI has opted to split the app into a newer version. Aside from some interface tweaks, it's nearly identical to the older DJI Go app that I'm used to using.
The app shows a live feed from the camera, lets you take control of video and photography settings, automatically logs your flights, and includes a very basic video editor and integration with the SkyPixel social network. You'll still use the remote to take control of the aircraft's movements, using the left stick for altitude and yaw, and the right to move the I2 through space. You can use TapFly with the I2, which lets you pilot the craft simply by tapping on a point on the phone's screen.
We received the premium Zenmuse X5S for review. The small Micro Four Thirds camera supports lens changes, captures video at up to 5.2K quality in CinemaDNG, and can shoot 20MP stills in DNG and JPG formats. It's much smaller than the similar CGO4 camera that Yuneec bundles with the H920. And, unlike the H920, which has a recessed lens mount, you can use third-party lenses via a mechanical adapter, as long as they are small and light enough to not too much strain on the stabilizing gimbal. A 15mm f/1.7 lens is included—it appears to be a DJI-branded version of the Panasonic Lumix G Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7.
In addition to the camera and lens, the bundle includes the software licenses you'll need to capture footage in CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes. A 16GB microSD card is included, but not an SSD, which is required to use the pro-grade formats. You can choose to buy one based on your storage needs—120GB for $299, 240GB for $499, or 480GB for $899—and you'll want to get the CineSSD Station to offload footage to a computer; it's $149.
You can also buy the aircraft without a camera for $2,999. You'll get the microSD card, but the camera and licenses aren't included. If you don't have the need to shoot in CinemaDNG or ProRes, you'll want to consider this configuration. You have the option of adding the X5S camera and lens for $1,899, or the X4S for $599. You'll still have access to H.264 and H.265 recording in your choice of MP4 or MOV format at 100Mbps, as well as DNG and JPG image capture.
The video processing engine is built into the aircraft rather than the camera modules. It supports 5.2K capture at up to 30fps and 4K at up to 60fps when shooting in CinemaDNG. ProRes recording tops out at 30fps, with both 422 HQ and 4444 XQ available at various aspect ratios. If you shoot in H.264 or H.265 you can push the video up to 60fps. Simultaneous recording to SSD and microSD is supported.
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Still images are supported in Raw DNG format with either camera. Both pack about 20MP of resolution; it's just the physical sensor size that differs. The X4S can be set to ISO 100 through 12800, while the X5S can be pushed further, to ISO 25600, a plus for video and imaging in very challenging light.
The Inspire 2 is a premium aircraft, and it delivers premium performance. My flight logs show that its cruising speed is about 40mph in its standard operating mode and I got it up to 69mph in the Sport configuration. You'll need to have a big, clear area to safely fly in Sport, though, as it disables the obstacle avoidance system and requires extra room for stopping.
I had no transmission issues flying at distances of up to 2,500 feet in testing. Beyond that point I started to get some jerkiness with my video feed and turned around. The Inspire 2 uses the same Lightbridge transmission system we've seen in other DJI drones, so in an area clear of Wi-Fi interference, you can expect it to go further than half a mile.
Considering its size and weight, battery life is solid. In a few flights that averaged 20 minutes in length and covered just about 13,000 feet of distance, I landed with 20 percent battery remaining. In a flight with more constant movement, close to 19,000 feet of distance in 14 minutes, I landed with 37 percent battery remaining. Depending on the type of flying you're doing, you can expect about 20 to 25 minutes of flight time with the X5S. DJI states that flight times are longer with the X4S.
There are several integrated safety features, including the basic Return-to-Home function that automatically brings the Inspire back to its point of launch in the event that communication between the remote and aircraft is disrupted. RtH can also be triggered manually, and obstacle avoidance is active in RtH, minimizing the chance of an accident.
Obstacle avoidance sensors in the nose prevent the I2 from running into objects, as long as it's flying forward. The system is able to detect objects 100 feet away. Because the camera can spin to face any direction, you should try to fly forward as much as possible if you're in an environment where a collision is possible. There are also upward facing IR sensors, though they have a much more limited 16-foot detection range. Sensors on the underside detect terrain, so altitude adjusts along with hills when flying low, and identify patterns beneath the drone for stable flight when working indoors without GPS stabilization. The I2 is a big bird, so we weren't able to test indoor flight.
Video and Image Quality
The aerial footage you get from the Zenmuse X5S is breathtaking, even when shooting in the lowly H.264 format. The big Micro Four Thirds sensor, combined with the ability to change lenses, really opens up what you can do with a drone. The included lens boasts a tighter field of view than you get from most aircraft, but only marginally so—it's about 30mm in full-frame equivalent terms.
I flew with a couple of different lenses in addition to the 15mm f/1.7. An Olympus 25mm f/1.8 is small enough to work with the X5S gimbal and covers a traditional standard-angle field of view. You won't get sweeping views from the air, but the sense of depth and motion will be enhanced. I also used the Olympus 12mm f/2, which is a small wide-angle gem that includes a manual focus ring. I set it to infinity and didn't have to worry about autofocusing during flight—if you do opt for AF, you'll need to tap the screen to set a focus point.
But I had the most fun with a non-native lens. My old Leica 40mm Summicron f/2, a manual focus lens that's slim enough to be considered a pancake, delivered lens flare and a lower contrast look that you don't get with modern lenses, even though I had it stopped down to about f/8 for flight. Its field of view is short telephoto on a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which gives footage a depth you don't typically see from a drone. It's also a good option for geting tighter views of the ground in areas where you want to remain at a higher altitude. Its field of view can be mimicked with the more modern Olympus 45mm f/1.8, another compact lens that's compatible with the X5S, but you won't get the same type of flare as you do with vintage glass. Not every Leica lens is going to be small and light enough to work with the X5S gimbal, but I'd imagine that the C Biogon 21mm and 35mm lenses from Zeiss would fit the bill, as would Leica's 35mm Summicron series.
You don't need to shoot in CinemaDNG to get great footage out of the I2. And to handle the 5.2K footage you'll not only need a fast computer, but an external drive that can read and write quickly enough for your editing software to keep up. I took some footage using CinemaDNG and my Retina iMac choked to the point where I didn't use any of it for this review—it was a pretty simple shakedown flight to make sure everything was working, not an exotic location shoot. There's currently a bug with Adobe Premiere Pro CC that makes CinemaDNG footage from the I2 look quite dark and shows highlights as bright magenta. But the video looks fine in other applications, including Photoshop and AfterEffects from Adobe, and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve. If you're working in an environment where CinemaDNG is the preferred workflow—that is, in the high end of the industry—you'll need to be aware of the issue, but it won't affect everyone.
ProRes footage loaded fine into Premiere Pro, and while the resolution isn't 5.2K, it's still quite strong at 4K, with a lot of latitude available for color correction and exposure adjustments. If you opt to get an Inspire kit without an SSD or software licenses, you'll be limited to shooting in H.264 or H.265. Those formats don't allow for as much leeway in adjustment, and are frowned upon in professional circles. Buf if you nail the shot in camera and are editing it for your own purposes, you'll end up with fantastic video as well.
One note about our test footage. You'll see some flickering changes in exposure at times. This is my fault—during one of my flights I left the drone in Shutter Priority mode instead of Manual. The automatic exposure system adjusted other settings during recording based on changes in the scene. To avoid this, do the right thing and set exposure manually.
Still images are just as good as you get with a Micro Four Thirds camera on the ground. The gimbal keeps the lens steady during exposure, and when switching over to stills you can always use a shorter shutter speed than you would for video footage to ensure a crisp image. I opted to shoot in DNG and JPG format simultaneously. I appreciate the ability to work with DNG files in Lightroom or Photoshop in order to tune shadows, highlights, and colors to get the exact look I want from a photo.
When paired with the X5S camera and gimbal, the DJI Inspire 2 delivers the best video we've seen from any drone. Its price is prohibitive for most consumers, but it's a solid purchase for video production companies and news organizations, and a drop in the bucket for Hollywood studios. The ability to use different lenses really opens up creative options and delivers footage that doesn't look like every other drone out there, and the large Micro Four Thirds sensor delivers video with a depth you don't get with small sensor drones.
The aircraft itself is also a marvel. Its construction is all pro-grade, with redundant flight systems, obstacle avoidance, and support for dual-operator control. In Sport mode it flies through the air with great speed, and in standard mode it cruises along quickly as well.
If you're a pro working on projects that require CinemaDNG or ProRes video capture, the Inspire 2 is your clear pidk, and our Editors' Choice in the pro drone space—it'll pay for itself in time.
By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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